I Need to Drop the Comparisons and Just be Me.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

I watched a video today by a life coach who has spent twenty years working with what she called, “creatives.” Her message was about getting unblocked and doing the work you are meant to do. One of the things she said was that some people have all the tools and all the resources, but they don’t do the work. I thought to myself, “that’s me!”

I have a writing coach; I participate in many Facebook groups for writers, I go to writing conferences, I buy resource books about writing, I have a writing buddy, and on and on but I have a difficult time sitting down in my chair every day to write.

I feel like I am one of the best-prepared writers that I know of who isn’t producing essays, or articles, blog posts, or working on a book. Boy, do I have the tools, though. At this point, I could easily be a writing coach for someone else, and I make an excellent writing buddy that is good at sharing resources, but there is resistance on my part to putting words on the page.

When do you blame the lack of motivation which is a symptom of schizophrenia, and when do you accept that you have something else going on? That is the thing with schizophrenia; it is hard to determine if you are experiencing a symptom or a variety of symptoms or if there is something else holding you back, causing anxiety, keeping you at home, etc.

I don’t think anyone thinks it is easy to have a mental illness, but the things that are difficult about it aren’t always obvious.  I think everyone would recognize that psychosis, or hallucinations, or hearing voices, etc. are difficult to manage. But the other symptoms, like anxiety, depression, social isolation, lack of motivation, weight gain (from medications), health problems (also from medications) make creating a “normal” life challenging too.

I know that a lack of motivation is a common symptom of schizophrenia, but when I look back over my days where I haven’t accomplished much, I think to myself, “You are lazy.” When I compare myself to other writers, I tell myself, “You should be doing that too! Look at them; they are so much more accomplished than you.”

I think that self-talk is possibly the biggest hurdle of all because in that self-talk is the comparison of me to others. Most of the people I know on social media and in real life do not have schizophrenia (a few of them do), and yet, I find that I compare myself to them all the time. Comparing ourselves to others is never a healthy pass time, but it can be extremely detrimental when you have a giant obstacle to overcome that many people do not.

I like to pass myself off as someone without a mental illness. I like to blend into a crowd or participate in everyday activities with others, but the truth is, I can’t always do that. I am not capable of planning out a day and anticipating what my symptoms will be. I have good days and bad days. I have days where I am overrun by symptoms and days where I am almost symptom-free. How then, with this reality can I compare me to someone else…apples to oranges.

I don’t know what it is like to work from home with small children or to work from home with chronic physical illness; I only know what it is like to be me; a person with schizophrenia who likes to imagine nothing is holding her back. Well, there is a hurdle I have to jump every day, most people have one, but if it isn’t the same height as mine, or the same width as mine and my legs are shorter, and I can’t run as fast, is it the same hurdle we are jumping? Nope. I need to learn to jump my hurdles and stop looking in the other lane at the runners who are faster or can jump higher than me.

Something to Blame: The Latest on Gun Violence

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

I’m exhausted, simply exhausted with all the talk about mental health and mental illness after the latest school shooting. I had to say something. I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

I know they need something to blame. It is easy to make monsters out of the marginalized because Hollywood has been doing it without consequence for years. It is easier to point the finger at the most vulnerable than to accept the real issue.

Everyone would agree that a mass shooter is a monster but monster is not equal to mentally ill, and it’s time to stop trying to make people believe that it is, because that it is such an easy, quick, acceptable answer to so many.

Once again, the unspeakable has happened, this time, it was children, at school. It has been children at school before. It has also been a movie theater, concerts, nightclubs. Mass shootings, it is one of the most terrifying, heart-wrenching, dark sides of American culture.

All morning I have listened to politicians (including the President), sheriffs, governors, and governor-hopefuls, talk about mental illness. If only we could keep the mentally ill from getting guns. If only we could keep guns out of the wrong hands.

One in four Americans has a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. If we are going to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, then one out of four Americans would be unable to purchase a firearm. Keeping guns out of that many people’s hands doesn’t bother me in the least. That would be a good choice, but it still won’t end mass shootings, because mental illness isn’t what ties most of these shootings to one another.

What do most of the shooters have in common? They are men. They are white. They have a history of violence (not necessarily a mental illness). And some of the most recent have ties to white supremacy. How do we keep guns from their hands?

I would gladly give up my right to own a gun, that doesn’t bother me at all, but equating mental illness to monsters is a cliché that is going to end in more deaths because it’s the plot of a horror movie and not the cause of what is killing Americans.

 

Publicizing Pain

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

This morning my husband handed me a copy of the February 12th issue of Time magazine that he had opened to a story. “Read this and let me know what you think,” he said. The title of the article is, “Her Mother’s Mind.” It is about a photographer, Melissa Spitz and the pictures she takes of her mother and posts on Instagram (apparently she has over 14,000 followers). Melissa’s mother has the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse.  Melissa has posted over 6,000 pictures of her mother online, the account is called, “You Have Nothing to Worry About.”

I haven’t seen the Instagram account, but I assume Time magazine tried to pick some of the pictures they thought were representative of the project. There are six photographs in total. The largest photo is the photographer in the mirror with her mother. Her mother has clips and rollers in her hair and is putting something on her bare face (lotion, or something). The photographer is slightly in the background with her camera. Two of the pictures are of Deborah (Melissa’s mother) smoking – one in a car and one in a chair with a blanket full of what I can only assume are cigarette burns.

Let me just say that I hate this project. I find it exploitive in every way. First, I think Deborah looks like an average woman; except one image where she is in what appears to be a hospital bed with her arms stretched toward the ceiling. People can disagree with me on this, and I’m sure some do, but I think this is the worst form of sensationalizing mental illness. I had some pictures of me when I was psychotic, and they haunt me. I look lost, I look far away, and I look ill. Is that how I look today? No. Would I want those pictures posted online for everyone to see what a “crazy” woman looks like? No.

The article says that Deborah occasionally asks Melissa if the photographs are really helping people and Melissa tells her yes.  There is a quote in the article from Melissa, “This is my way of coping, of making art out of chaos.” It sounds to me like the project has more to do with the photographer and her wants, dreams, desires, etc. than it does with Deborah whose most vulnerable and intimate states are made public.

 

When Writers Are Lazy We Get Stereotypes

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

We finished the series (only four episodes) of Retribution on Netflix last night. My brother told me to watch it because of the way they handle schizophrenia. The series is a pretty good mystery, but the writers were lazy. Lazy is what I am going to start calling writers who can’t be bothered to move past stereotypes or do research.

The suspected killer in Retribution is “a schizophrenic off his medication.” No, I can’t make this stuff up. The character’s mental health has absolutely no value to the story whatsoever, and they decided to add that line. The story might have been stronger without the reference to schizophrenia. The character shows no symptoms of the illness and only shows symptoms of drug addiction (and people with a former addiction might have a problem with making the criminal a drug user, I don’t know. I don’t follow many people recovering from drug addiction).

Not only do the writers get schizophrenia wrong (stereotype and no sign of symptoms), but they get Parkinson’s wrong as well. My brother-in-law has had Parkinson’s for over twenty years, and my dad has it as well, and it isn’t a death sentence the way the movie makes it out to be. The way the character with the disease acts it is as if he only has a short time to live which is not the case with anyone I know with Parkinson’s.

I have three new books to read that all have a character with schizophrenia. I will be posting the books and how well I think the authors portray the illness. I still think movie writers do a poor job overall, let’s see if novels and memoirs are any better.

Do any of you have good examples of books or movies with mentally ill characters? I am mostly interested in the portrayal of schizophrenia, but if a book or movie has a good representation of bipolar disorder, I might read or watch it.

 

When the Bad News Turns Hopeful

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

I have a picture on my desk of my husband and me in Paris. My husband’s hair was long and is standing on end because of the wind. He is wearing a black winter jacket, and I am wearing a pink one. We have our arms around each other, and we are smiling. I love this photograph taken almost thirteen years ago. It was taken at a time when we still thought I had bipolar disorder.

Our lives would change so much with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, and I’m not sure of all the reasons why. I never had issues with anxiety back then, and I certainly didn’t have to take medication to relieve it on a daily basis. In fact, I took a very small dose of an antipsychotic and that kept me relatively symptom-free for seven years.

Now, I take an antipsychotic and an anti-anxiety medication. My doses are higher, as well. I know that the symptoms of schizophrenia can change over time, and I am sure that is part of my issue, but I think the biggest part of my problem (except the added anxiety) is the way we lived with and dealt with my mental illness when we thought I had bipolar disorder.

This whole thing just occurred to me today, and I think I am right about some of it. The symptoms I know that have gotten worse as I’ve aged are anxiety, a lack of motivation, and the desire to isolate socially. I can’t deny or change that these things have become increasingly prevalent in my life and have impacted my quality of life. But those things alone are not enough to account for all the changes in my lifestyle since the picture in Paris was taken.

I think the actual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia has changed the way my husband and I live and responds and take care of my illness. The last time I was psychotic was so traumatic for both my husband and I that I think both of us would do anything not to go through a similar episode (it lasted six months and almost led to our divorce). I was on the verge of losing everything I care about during my last episode. It was not only frightening to be psychotic and eventually suicidal, the real world consequences (outside of my brain) were significant. I know my husband feels the same way. My last episode was heart-wrenching and terrifying for him as well, and like I said it lasted six months. Six months is a long time to deal with something painful and scary.

I haven’t talked to my doctor about it, but I will the next time I see him, but I am wondering if my husband and I have a form of PTSD caused by my last episode of psychosis. It may sound like an over-reach to call it PTSD, but I am serious. During my last psychotic episode, I left home. My husband was able to track me from my credit card but could never quite catch up to me. I eventually came home, and when I did, I thought I wanted to get a divorce. My husband believed that we were in the process of separating from one another. Then for the next six months, we lived together with me actively trying to untie our finances from one another and talking to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (I wasn’t praying, I heard voices).

It was after that last psychotic episode that I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. My husband and I didn’t know any more than most people about what paranoid schizophrenia is, what it meant for me or us as a couple, the symptoms, etc. All we knew was that the doctor who diagnosed me considered it “bad news,” Because that is how she told me, “I have some bad news for you…”  And my husband and I have considered it “bad news” ever since. Not the worst news, not horrible news, but bad news.

So, considering the emotional trauma of those six months and the way the doctor presented my new diagnosis to me, is it any wonder that my husband and I go to great lengths to keep me from having another break? No. It is no surprise. The thought of another break is terrifying to both of us and threatens the life we have built together. So, I think we have gone overboard on keeping me from feeling stress both emotional and physical.

In other words, I think I am stronger than either of us know. And this realization is going to change the way I live my life from this day forward.

 

 

Broadening the Narrative of Severe Mental Illness

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

*I am not referring to the horrible and tragic stories where family members have tried again and again to get a loved one help and have been unsuccessful (those stories need to be told over and over until we can change the system).

It seems remarkable to me that there is still stigma and stereotypes that are so prevalent surrounding mental illness. I feel like everywhere I turn someone is writing a memoir, essay or novel with a mentally ill character. The most common stories involve a child of a mentally ill parent or a parent of a mentally ill child. The stories an adult child of a mentally ill parent can tell are very different than the stories someone can tell about themselves. The same is also true when parents write about their children.

I understand how scary a mentally ill parent’s episode of psychosis can be to a child. I also understand the grief associated with having a child go from one level of functioning to another, but somehow other stories need to be told as well. I’m not saying these stories aren’t important or true, only that they seem to be the most common narrative. Many of them lack originality and don’t further our understanding of the range of what people with a severe mental illness are capable of doing, being, contributing.

I know with mental illness comes pain, sorrow, suffering. I know that those things do not just visit the person with the illness. I know these stories can interest a reader, but I think we need to advocate for and support writers who have a severe mental illness and help them tell their stories whenever we can (if you love someone with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, please encourage them to write). Even with the surge of writers brought on by the Internet and digital culture, I feel like there still aren’t enough people who have a severe mental illness telling their stories, what their lives are like and their successes, dreams, etc.

It’s frustrating that editors seem to either love the “feel good story” or the “sensational story.” When I say a “feel good story,” I mean that I or someone else is an inspiration to others rather than just a common person doing their thing. When I say “sensational,” I mean that the editor wants me to include the details of hallucinations, delusions, etc. even though that isn’t always a huge part of having schizophrenia. It is the worst part, I will admit, but not always the most frequent symptoms especially if the person is on antipsychotics and isn’t medication resistant.

I will do my part to get more stories out there. If you have a unique story, or your loved one has a unique story, I will share resources with you to help get you/them published. We can either communicate via Skype or e-mail. Hit me up; I’ll help if I can. Let’s change this narrative and give a broader perspective of severe mental illness.

Technology Diet? I Need A Scale for That.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday it was eighty-one degrees in San Diego. We went to the bay side of Coronado and walked along the waterfront. It was like summer. People were riding bikes, eating ice cream, walking dogs, pushing children in strollers, eating on restaurant’s patios, and listening to the music of a live band. The whole scene had a festival-type atmosphere.

I haven’t been out for a while because of a pinched nerve in my back, and because I tend to isolate socially, but it was wonderful to be out among people who weren’t checking their phones, or clicking away on laptops or tablets. People were outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and enjoying activities together. It felt like another world.

I realized something about myself. I like to talk to strangers. I asked everyone who had an English Bulldog, ( one couple, and one family) the name of their dog if they had health problems and other questions. I told the barista at the coffee stand that I loved her eye makeup, and she told me she had watched hundreds of YouTube videos to learn how to achieve that look. Jokingly, I asked her if she would come to my house and do my eyes, and she said, “Yes, of course!”

After we had returned home from the bay, we had dinner and then decided to go to the grocery store to shop for our weekly groceries. I had a summer dress on and with the sun already down it was starting to get cool, so I threw a sweatshirt over my dress and put on some pants underneath. I looked very disheveled. At the store, one of the clerks and I started up a conversation, and I asked him how he liked my clothing ensemble. I told him I called it my, “I am going to the grocery store on a Sunday night and why not put everything in the closet on.” We both laughed, and he told me no one would notice. It’s true we shop in a pretty rough area, so maybe nobody did pay any attention to the woman with several outfits on.

I was so surprised how much I liked talking to strangers. I especially love getting them to laugh or smile. Even though San Diego is supposed to have the highest rate of road rage; it seems like people are friendly when you meet them in person. I have spent so much time on social media, and away from face-to-face interactions, I didn’t realize how much more civil and delightful people are in person.

To keep perspective on humanity, I need to commit to seeing people more. It may be difficult to force myself out of the house when I have active symptoms, but it is so necessary for my head and heart.

Spending too much time in the world of technology (social media) got under my skin. Getting outdoors, in summer-like weather, when people want to laugh and enjoy themselves is like a balm for the soul. I forgot about politics, angry tweets, and name-calling. I forgot about the polarization of our country and how easy it is to bash one another in a faceless land (social media).

I like it outside where good hearts show up in every direction. I’ve heard of technology fasting and technology diets. I think they are as critical to good health as eating vegetables.

Ramblings About Identity, Brand, Courage and Fear

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

My husband told me that when he was in college, many of the architecture students would dress in black turtlenecks, and black pants. It was what students wore to look like architects. Many people that are poets and artists do the same thing, they try and develop a “look” so everyone will know their preferred identity as an artist.

On social media, people frequently try to “brand” themselves. I think this is quite successful if done intentionally or not. I know if you showed me a hundred posts written on social media there are several dozen people who, without any identifying information, I would know because of the way they said something or the words they used to say it. Some people who I have followed for years just have their own style of writing.

I don’t have a unique style on social media. I post other writer’s books. I post other writer’s articles. I post workshops and classes put on by writers. I sometimes will post a call for submissions, writing contest, or a residency. So many times I have posted something political, either something that outraged me or an article I read on an online news source, only to take it down within a few minutes to an hour later. A few years ago, I posted much more personal stuff on social media (I can tell by the memories that Facebook shows me on a daily basis), but I stopped that when I started using social media as a networking tool.

I know why I am willing to write my inner life and daily happenings on a blog but not on social media. I am afraid of the “call out culture” on social media, and what people will think, do, or say. I have strong opinions on most of the things happening in our society right now. I have strong opinions about politics, about disability, about the use of the word, “schizophrenic” (which I happen to see far too often). I have strong opinions about a lot of things, but I am not willing to fight and take heat for those opinions. I know it sounds like I am a coward, but it has to do with schizophrenia.

Making enemies (which seems to be easy online these days) and getting threats (I know many writers this has happened to) is not something I can tolerate when I already battle paranoia. So many people tell me how brave I am and how courageous I am and honestly, those words make me feel like a fraud.

I think it is easier to talk about living with the most misunderstood and feared of the severe mental illnesses than it is to post something I feel strongly about on social media. Although people often unfriend me when they find out I have schizophrenia, they don’t usually argue with me about it, the worst thing that happens is people give me advice about how to “cure” it or “treat” it or they will go on a tangent about “Big Pharma.”  I can handle most of those things, although they are disheartening, at least they aren’t hateful.

I think people who put what they believe out there in public no matter what the consequences, are bold, brave and courageous. We all have a different tolerance for what we create and share about ourselves, and that is what makes the landscape of the Internet such diverse terrain – you can find every type of person, opinion, lifestyle, hobby, obsession, etc.

No one should feel alone on the World Wide Web, and as far as bravery and courage go, well that means something different to different people. If you want courage and bravery to be part of your identity or “brand” you can’t count on it the way you can an outfit that defines you as an artist or architect. Bravery and courage have to do with our own tolerance for dealing with fear and what one person fears, another person craves. I happen to fear too much and crave very little.

Schizophrenia: Writing and Writers

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t had to use the app that blocks social media this week. I have been productive most days and able to curb my addiction. I need social media for my writing so I can network and find out about publishing opportunities, but the way I was using it was not useful. In fact, I think it was harming me. I wrote about it a couple of days ago and mentioned all the negativity and fighting, public shaming, call out culture, etc. that was making me angry. Anyway, I’ve made progress, and for that, I am thankful and happy.

I pitched four essays/articles this week (wish me luck that a couple of them will be assigned/accepted). I found a new idea for brainstorming articles and essays that was a breakthrough in thinking for me, and I read way more articles and essays so that I can improve my writing (Every writer I know says to be a better writer you need to read more).

I like to promote the work of fellow writers. I especially like to promote the work of people living with schizophrenia. So, here are a few writers that I follow, that write about the experience of living with schizophrenia. I don’t agree with everything they say, but I respect all of them. I assume they wouldn’t agree with everything I say either, and that is not a negative thing.

Most of them are much younger than me, and I find that interesting. I hope you will check out these writers and their work.

Bethany Yeiser

Allie Burke

Mike Hedrick

 

Schizophrenia and Establishing Relationships

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have read many blogs and books by people with schizophrenia, and many of the writers express a desire to date and eventually get married. Unlike me, there are many people with schizophrenia who live in hiding (not disclosing their illness for fear of the consequences), and many of those people are married. I assume their spouses must know of their illness even if most people in their lives don’t.

On the other hand, I am open about my schizophrenia, and I am married, but it may not be like someone would assume. I was married early in my twenties and divorced before my first psychotic break. I don’t think my first husband would have stayed with me and worked with me if he had experienced my illness. (I say this not knowing for certain because he never had that opportunity, chance, test, whatever it is someone would call it).

I met my second husband after my first psychotic break, but at that time my diagnosis was bipolar disorder. If we had both known at the time that my true illness was paranoid schizophrenia, would we have made it to our wedding? I don’t know. I can’t say. I wasn’t diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia until I was in my early forties. By the time I had the correct diagnosis my husband, and I had been together for at least ten years.

During ten years of marriage, my husband had grown to know a lot about me. The diagnosis of schizophrenia came as a shock to us, and I suppose it could have caused some people to throw their relationship away, but not us. When I received my diagnosis, I had just started to recover from a six-month episode of psychosis. Our marriage was on wobbly ground during that period. I thought during that time that I wanted a divorce. My husband thought that is where we would end up – in front of a judge with a no-fault divorce.

Once I was on medication and started to return to my old self, my husband started to heal from the injuries I caused him during my psychosis, and he started to understand the difference between schizophrenia and me. I am one person when I am on the right medication and someone quite different when I slip into psychosis. This period is where I find my husband to be remarkable. Not while we were dating and thought I had bipolar disorder, but when he had lived with me as someone who was psychotic for six-moths and received no love, or understanding, or connection from me, and then, when I recovered, he stayed and helped me rebuild my life.

Even though my husband and I had a whole history together before discovering I had schizophrenia, I think it is possible for people to find a lifelong partner if they already know that they have schizophrenia before meeting their potential mate. I think having the opportunity to get to know each other is the critical step in the process. Two people need to have some feelings and history together to be able to navigate and process a diagnosis of severe mental illness.

I think the same is true for making new friends. If those of us with schizophrenia let people get to know us a little bit before we tell them our diagnosis, then they will have already developed their impression of us, and first impressions are powerful. Many people meet me, and they know about my schizophrenia before even shaking my hand because other people have told them and many saw an article about me in People Magazine a couple of years ago.

I would prefer that people get to know me before they know my diagnosis, but I don’t always have control of that. I think if you do have control over when and where to tell someone about your illness that it is beneficial to wait until they see who and how you are so that stereotypes and stigma don’t overpower their decision to stay in a relationship.

Everything that is possible for people without schizophrenia is possible for people with schizophrenia we just have to be more creative to make some things work.